Joanne Otto

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Thank You, Fred Rogers!

Could there be a better time for a movie about Fred Rogers to be released than at what has sadly become the most stressful season of the year? Perhaps no one in modern times has dealt more successfully with what Fred referred to as “the mad that I feel”— an expression he’d once picked up from a child. He simply radiated kindness, patience, and understanding to the children on his television show and to those watching it from home.

As a young mother, I sometimes watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with our two little daughters. It happened only occasionally since their TV time was also my catch-up time. But once in a while I watched the show, too, for the simple reason that I needed to.

Parenting young children can take a lot of patience, and there were times when I found mine becoming frazzled. Nothing was a greater support to me in sending out positive, nurturing vibes to our children than the model Fred Rogers provided. I never had to suppress negative feelings towards the kids after watching his show. They weren’t even on the radar screen for days afterwards. And if they started to reappear, I now had a way to deal with them—thanks to Mr. Rogers. His lessons in getting control of one’s feelings may have been targeted at children, but I found they were a priceless gift to parents as well.

Some years later I had a memorable opportunity to pass this blessing along to someone else. In the supermarket where I was shopping, loud outcries from a small child were resounding through the entire store, as were the sharp, angry words pouring out of his mother. This disturbance continued nonstop. I found myself praying, “Dear Father, if you want me to say or do anything, put them in my path.“

A few minutes later, their shopping cart rounded the corner right in front of me. I had no idea what I was going to say, but there was no ducking out now. What came to me in that moment was a message of love that surprised me as much as it probably did this mother. I found myself addressing the child: “Your mommy loves you very much. She’s just having a bad day. She doesn’t want to be angry at you, but right now she can’t help it. If you can stop crying, you can help her be the mommy she wants to be.” Evidently those were the words they were meant to hear because that dear mother thanked me, the little one quieted down, and peace reigned from that point on.

That feeling of stress, anger, and impatience tends to flare up when we feel under pressure, and at this time of year it’s easy to feel that way. The last thing we want to do is to convey that sense of pressure to young children who are under our care. Bless Fred Rogers for empowering children and parents alike to get control of emotions that are damaging both to our relationships with others and to our own self-esteem. We don’t have to let them spoil our Christmas season or, for that matter, any other time of year. We can let love starve them right out of existence. Thank you, Fred Rogers, for showing us how.

Out of Control?

How reassuring it feels to think we have things under control! The trouble with that feeling is, however, that we never really do. And if feeling in control seems too important to us, the times when we don’t have it can be extremely stressful, to put it mildly. That’s why I feel beyond grateful for a quiet certainty that One who is both almighty and good IS in control, and always will be.

The first time I realized how deeply rooted that certainty had become was on a winter morning when I’d decided to do a few errands before the kids got home from school. We had one of those tall, narrow VW mini-buses at the time—a bright red one. My husband, Steve, had dubbed it Quad-R for “Rolling Red Rumpus Room.” So that morning I climbed aboard Quad-R and headed toward the nearest shopping mall, which was some distance away. It had snowed, but the roads had been plowed, so I wasn’t expecting any problems. But all of a sudden, a few miles out, I felt Quad-R sliding sideways off the crest of the road! What surprised me was that, even though I had absolutely no control over the car, I didn’t feel a smidgeon of fear. In fact, my first thought was that it was going to be wonderful to see how He would work this thing out. The car did, in fact, end up sliding right off the road, but it came gently to a stop against perhaps the one object on that road that would neither harm the car nor be harmed by it: a mailbox that the owner had decorated by wrapping corn husks around it. It was as if the padding had been applied for this very purpose! I was able to pull back onto the road and head gratefully home.

Another memorable instance of experiencing the reliability of this divine control occurred some years later. My husband was working in Annapolis at the time, and I was flying out there for a weekend visit. I packed a tote bag with reading material to enjoy on the flight. I also tucked into it some pieces of non-costume jewelry that were fairly valuable—at least to me—in order to keep them with me. After deplaning in Annapolis, I found a seat where I could wait for my luggage and tucked the tote under the seat. I must have been happily diverted by Steve’s arrival because, some miles from the airport, I realized I had left the tote underneath that seat. We went back to the airport immediately and searched not only under the seat but also in all the places where lost objects could be turned in—all to no avail. That bag with its valued contents was now totally out of my control. The first thing that came to mind was that even if it was out my control, it was not out of God’s control. The second was that its contents, which included some inspirational reading material, could bless someone, and that my name and address was on some of it. And I determined then and there that I did not have to allow this incident to cast a shadow over a lovely weekend with Steve. And it didn’t. Fast forward several weeks to a day when a package arrived in the mail with a return address I didn’t recognize. Inside was the tote with every bit of its contents intact. To this day I don’t know how the decision to return the bag came about. I only know for certain that it was “a God thing.”

I’m sure that you have probably experienced similar occasions when something that seemed to be out of control ended up providing a proof of who really IS in control. I hope I can encourage you to share one (or more) of them here or with someone who needs to hear about them.

Scripture Comes Alive

Even after thousands of years, the Holy Land still vividly illuminates its ancient stories. And for Scripture-lovers, experiencing these illuminations is unforgettable.

Take, for instance, my first glimpse of Jesus’ hometown. Our tour group had just crossed the Jezreel Valley only to see a huge, alarmingly steep hill towering above us. It was the site of Nazareth. Immediately the image flashed to mind of an angry mob that had led Jesus “unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (Luke 4:29). Until that moment I’d had no conception of the height and steepness of that hill and of the threat that such a fall would have been to Jesus’ life. How grateful I was that “he passing through the midst of them went his way”! The Holy Land had clearly illuminated for us the remarkable protection Jesus had experienced at the very start of his ministry.

Soon after this the Holy Land gave us further insight into another time when Jesus’ life was at stake. We’d arrived in Jerusalem late in the day, and by the time we reached the Garden of Gethsemane, it was already growing dark—just as it would have been on the night before his crucifixion when Jesus came here with his disciples to pray. To the west of us was a hill, Mount Moriah, on which would have stood the Temple, looming over them. Jesus well knew what fate awaited him if he remained in the vicinity of that Temple during this emotionally charged Passover festival. He also knew how easy it would be to find safety over the hill that lay to the east of them, the Mount of Olives. Standing there in the dark between those two hills, we caught a glimpse of how much, in that crucial moment, depended on his choice and realized as never before what vision, courage, and love it took to make that choice.

Experiences such as these bring priceless insights to those who love the Bible. If you haven’t yet visited the Holy Land, I hope you’ll someday have that blessed opportunity. And if you already have, please consider sharing with us a memorable Holy Land experience of your own.

What’s good about a bad day?

It has to have been the worst day of my young life so far. For the first time I was experiencing the loss of someone dear to me. Our precious Nana was the very embodiment of unselfish love. It was painful to imagine life without her.

On the bleak afternoon of her passing, my sister and I had been given a special assignment. We were to do our best to comfort our grandfather while our parents made one last trip to the hospital. What we found to talk about with Dadder on that sorrowful occasion I cannot remember. But what still stays with me is that our visit proved to be surprisingly easy—even pleasant. Under such circumstances, how could that be?

Today I think I understand, perhaps taking a hint from our parents’ grateful acknowledgement, when they returned, of what we had done. Under challenging circumstances, we’d shared a small but timely gift of joy with our grandfather, and it had given us an opportunity to draw on inner spiritual resources we didn’t yet know we had. When all is said and done, does anything satisfy the heart quite as deeply as discovering those inner resources? So precious are they that, even after a lengthy string of disastrous days, Job could confidently state, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Viewed from this perspective, perhaps there’s a lot to be said in favor of “bad days.” Or perhaps there’s really no such thing as a bad day unless we miss the opportunity it offers. I suspect that Dadder already knew this. The previous year he had written in my middle school yearbook: “May you learn to take life with its ups and downs as it is and enjoy it both ways.” He was doing just that the day Nana left us and showing us that we could do it too, turning even the worst day so far into a golden one.

Punkt!

Several months ago, I listened to an inspirational talk on YouTube. It happened to be in German, and I was surprised and pleased at how much of it I could understand. The speaker pointed out the human tendency to acknowledge the truth of some inspiring affirmation from the Scriptures and then talk ourselves out of it with a “yes, but…” Instead, she said, we need to follow it with a “punkt!”
“Punkt” (the vowel is pronounced like the “oo” in “good”) is the German word for “period,” but with its single syllable and crisp consonants it has much more of a ring of finality. So I find it helpful–and perhaps you will, too– to remember when I read or think of a statement such as “God saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good,” to make sure I’m following it mentally if not verbally with a clear and definitive “Punkt”!
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Punkt!
“With God all things are possible.” Punkt!
“We are the children of God.” Punkt!
End of story!

A Fresh Start

In January the thought came to me that it was time for my books, The You-Song and Daughter of Jerusalem, to have a new publisher–one who could see their potential to bless. Not more than two days later, without me even bringing up the subject, my daughter, Meghan Williams, began telling me about LaShawn Dobbs of Divine Purpose Publishing! Within a week I had spoken with LaShawn, felt her enthusiasm, and decided to move forward with her.

LaShawn’s loving care of my “babies” has been everything I could have hoped for. As a result, not only are they now out in meticulously edited new editions and at a more reasonable price, but I’m also having the opportunity to share them on blog sites and speak about them in internet radio interviews. What a great opportunity for them to reach the audiences for whom they were written!

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